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A gentil knyght, a violent Day

AT LAST, after years of subterfuge, the real Sir Robin Day is back. For some time now, a rather clever marketing strategy has evolved around Sir Robin, engineered largely by himself: he is, and always has been, a parfit gentil knyght on air, he says - the kind of interviewer who probes and presses rather than bullies and taunts. He does not, he says, 'do a Paxo', as he describes the Paxman technique of stuffing politicians.

There are times, however, when the packaging is stripped off, exposing the real Sir Robin in all his splendour. Yesterday we had such a glimpse during an interview with Richard Madeley on ITV's This Morning programme. Sir Robin took exception to the way Madeley had interrogated an earlier guest, Elaine Paige, about her previous relationship with Tim Rice.

Sir Robin tore into him like the Sir Robin of old (Sir John Nott will know what we mean). It had been a 'disgraceful intrusion' into her private life, he said, before demanding to know where Madeley's wife, fellow presenter Judy Finnigan, had got to. 'I only came because of her, because I thought she was the nice one and you were the bastard.' Perhaps recalling the then Mrs Thatcher's insistence on calling him Mr Day despite his knighthood, Sir Robin spent the rest of the interview calling Madeley 'Judy'.

NOW WHO will lose their jobs over this latest marketing ploy? In separate promotions, Airline Ticket Network and the Ritz Hotel are offering a special gift to customers booking flights and rooms. You've guessed it - a free Hoover.

Songs of freedom

WHEN Paxman is not telling politicians to come clean, or come off it, he does a spot of writing, turning his hand this week to the diary in the Spectator. There he marvels at a Hungarian woman who hadn't realised the Cold War was over, and was spotted by a former border guard struggling towards Austria with a long ladder on her shoulder.

This woman will probably never have heard of the Eurovision Song Contest, that gladiatorial display of Western culture renowned for its Boom-Bang-a-Bangs - but her own country, some former republics of the old Soviet Union and the Baltic states, have been surprisingly keen to embarrass themselves.

Last Saturday singers from the former Yugoslavian states of Slovenia, Bosnia and Croatia met in Ljubljana for a final eliminator with those other Sandie Shaw types from Slovakia, Estonia, Hungary and Romania. Bosnia and Croatia were second and third, but the Diary's hot tip for next month's final are last Saturday's winners, 1X Band from Slovenia, with 'A Quiet Rainy Day'.

WE TRUST the unsuccessful Hungarian contestant Andrea Szulak will be consoled by the following report in Budapest's English-language newspaper, the Daily News. 'Apart from government attacks on Hungarian broadcasters, anti-Semitic remarks by governing party figures Istvan Csurka and Gyula Zacsek, skinhead demonstrations, and some anti-gypsy and anti-refugee sentiments, human rights are well-guaranteed and exercised in Hungary, the US State Department's annual human rights report said.'

The builders are in SEVEN weeks into a retrospective exhibition of paintings at the Tate Gallery by the American abstract artist Robert Ryman - he specialises in plain white canvasses, not dissimilar to the walls they are hung on - we bring you the following extracts from a review by the guard who stands over these apparitions every day.

Choosing his words carefully about the man described by the Tate's director, Nicholas Serota, as 'one of the most important abstract painters of his generation', he gazed at the white wall in front of him - otherwise known as Classico 5, 1968 - and delivered his verdict: 'If you want to know what happens when you splash white paint on to wood, or cardboard, or copper, you can just come along to the exhibition. It saves you the trouble of doing it yourself. It is also good for ideas on how to bolt paintings to the wall. The builders did a really good job.'

Ryman should not knock the guard: for seven years he was one himself at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.


7 April 1868 Charles Dickens, on a lecture tour of the United States, writes to his daughter: 'I not only read last Friday, when I was doubtful of being able to do so, but read as I never did before, and astonished the audience quite as much as myself. I have been very near giving in, but feel stronger today. I cannot tell whether the catarrh may have done me any lasting injury in the lungs, until I have rested and got home. I hope and believe not. I cannot eat and have established this system: at 7 in the morning, in bed, a tumbler of new cream and two tablespoonsful of rum. At 12, a sherry cobbler and a biscuit. At 3, a pint of champagne. At 5 minutes to 8, an egg beaten up with a glass of sherry and the strongest beef tea that can be made, drunk hot. At a quarter past 9, soup and anything to drink that I can fancy. I don't eat more than half a pound of solid food in the whole 24 hours, if so much.'